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Sunni militants take close to 100 hostages

By Associated Press
Published April 17, 2005

BAGHDAD - Iraqi security forces surrounded a central Iraqi village early today after Sunni militants took as many as 100 Shiite Muslims hostage and threatened to kill the captives if other Shiites did not leave town. The explosive sectarian standoff played out, as 17 people - including an American soldier - were killed in insurgent attacks elsewhere in Iraq.

Late Saturday, insurgents fired mortar rounds at a U.S. Marine base near Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad, the military said, adding that there were no American casualties. Residents said dozens of armed fighters moved through the city after dark. They reported loud explosions when the militants tried to force their way into Camp Blue Diamond and said there were casualties among the attackers.

In the southeast, 11 Iraqi detainees angry at their treatment by American jailers broke out of Camp Bucca, the American military's largest detention center, by cutting through a fence. Ten were recaptured, U.S. and Iraqi authorities said.

The Sunni-Shiite conflict exploded Thursday in Madain, 15 miles southeast of Baghdad, when Sunni militants attacked the town mosque with explosives. National Security Minister Qassem Dawoud said government security forces had the town surrounded and were conducting raids to root out the hostage-takers. He said U.S.-led forces were backing the operation, but the U.S. military said it had no information on the matter.

Haitham Husseini, a spokesman for the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the country's largest Shiite group, said the Madain mosque had been badly damaged in the Thursday attack.

Husseini said about 100 masked militants drove through Madain, capturing Shiite youngsters and old men. He and government officials said between 35 to 100 people were taken hostage.

The Associated Press reported that an unnamed resident said that the militants had returned early Saturday, shouting through loudspeakers that all Shiites must leave or the hostages would be killed. Later, the resident said, the town appeared calm and there was no sign of insurgents. Other residents said no hostages had been taken. The conflicting accounts could not be reconciled.

Dawoud told Al-Arabia television that insurgents loyal to Jordanian-born militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of the feared group al-Qaida in Iraq, were operating throughout the area.

The insurgents repeatedly have sparred with Iraq's security forces in Madain and its outlying districts, which are populated by a near-equal mix of Shiite and Sunni Muslims.

The death of an American soldier from the 42nd Military Police Brigade was one of two reported Saturday. The military police officer died after his convoy was hit by a roadside bomb near Taji, north of Baghdad. A second soldier died Saturday of wounds sustained a day earlier in an attack on a base near Tikrit, 80 miles north of the capital.

In Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of the capital, a bomb exploded inside a restaurant frequented by Iraqi police, killing nine people, most of them policemen, authorities said. Twelve people were wounded.

A suicide car bomber attacked a convoy on the road to the Baghdad airport, killing at least three civilians - one Iraqi and two foreigners. Three Iraqis and three foreigners were wounded, police said. In the northern city of Kirkuk, insurgents killed three members of Iraq's security forces, firing from speeding vehicles on soldiers and policemen, police said. A police officer also was shot and killed in the center of Kut, 100 miles southeast of Baghdad.

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